Lessons Learned from Alex Gordon

I had several people check in on me yesterday to see if I was hanging in there. A couple of my favorites – in our group admin text, our AD asked me if I needed to take the day. On Twitter, a former colleague quoted a tweet and asked if I was ok. Each of these made me laugh, for my love of Alex Gordon is no secret, and his retirement announcement prompted people to be sure I was coping ok with the news. Here’s the deal – I’m more than ok with this announcement. Yes, I’ll miss seeing Gordo dive into the crowd, smash into walls, and make unbelievable assists from left field. I’ll miss the weekly Gordo highlight reels during baseball season that elicit an audible, “Are you kidding me?!” Yes, I’ll miss the Royals social media posts showcasing his arms, er, I mean, sorry, I got sidetracked there. But what I love most about Alex Gordon isn’t going away anytime soon. The legacy he is leaving and the leadership he brought to the organization will live on long past his playing career. As a parent, I am hopeful that my son, Gordon, can take some lessons from his namesake and apply them into whatever endeavors he chooses in this life. And as a leader in education, I’d be remiss if I didn’t take this opportunity to connect how we can learn from Alex Gordon and use his mindset to improve our practice.

Now, a little bit of background here. I played softball from the time I was about 8 years old until I was 22 years old. I was fortunate enough to play in college, and my days playing softball were some of the best of my life. I was a pitcher, and I have a natural love for outfielders. I mean, I loved our entire defense, but when you leave a ball hanging over the plate and your left fielder sprints, crashes into the fence and saves the day? There’s no bigger feeling of gratitude for saving your tush.

So this leads me to my first talking point. As an outfielder, you literally sacrifice your body to stop or catch the ball at all costs. We saw this out of Gordo every opportunity he got. Whether it was running full speed into a wall, flipping into a crowd, or laying out to dive to catch a ball – he would stop at nothing to make the play. Some of you may be thinking, “Well, duh, that’s his job.” But let me just tell you that not all outfielders are built this way. To play the outfield in the manner in which he played it takes not only an unbelievable amount of talent and skill, but a mindset of helping your team at all costs. So how can we take this principle of sacrificing oneself into the arena of leadership? I think the answer here is simple – as leaders, our needs come second to those of our team and who we lead. Do we have what it takes to body slam into a wall if it means our team benefits from it? Not all leaders are built this way either. Will we stop at nothing to make the play for the good of our organization? I’ve always admired the way Alex Gordon played outfield, and I hope to apply those principles in my day to day leadership.

What I just described above does not happen by accident. You don’t just take perfect routes and reads on the ball every time it’s hit by natural ability alone. It takes an extreme amount of discipline, preparedness, and attention to detail, both physically and mentally. And if you’ve ever read-up on Alex Gordon, you know that he is one of the most disciplined players to have ever played the game. From what I have read, his pre-game routines and rituals were out of this world regimented and precise. The amount of discipline that takes day in and day out is almost unfathomable. At the end of the day, he couldn’t say he didn’t prepare to the best of his ability. What can I take out of this to grow as a professional? For me, it’s knowing that the hard work isn’t glamorous. It isn’t done in front of everyone. It’s done when no one is looking. It’s done when you’d rather be doing a million other things. It’s facing the hard stuff head-on and having the discipline to see it through to the end. It’s having the discipline to sit down and think through plans A, B and C in this uncertain world we live in. It’s attention to detail to be sure we get things right. It’s the willingness to put in the work when no one else is. Alex Gordon didn’t come by all his success by accident, and neither do we in whatever leadership endeavor we are undertaking.

As many of you know (assuming a lot of my audience is in the Kansas City area), Gordo has not always been a left fielder. In fact, when he was the number two overall pick in 2005, he was drafted as a third baseman. While this post is not about the details of his transition to outfield, let’s say it wasn’t because he was just killing it at 3rd base. He had to learn an entire new position if he wanted to keep playing in the majors. Some people would have stopped right there. Wallowed in self-pity. Said, “It’s been a good ride.” But not Gordo. He reinvented himself as the best left fielder in the game. So let’s talk perseverance for a minute. This is one of those “soft skills” we try to instill in our students. We often refer to it as “grit.” If we, as leaders, embody a fraction of the grit that Alex Gordon showed throughout his career – to continue to get back up after being knocked down, (sometimes quite literally for Gordo), we’ll leave our profession better than we found it. You guys, education is HARD right now. I mean it’s always hard. But mid-pandemic in a society that is becoming more and more divisive and “gotcha” by nature? This profession isn’t for the faint of heart. But if we can channel some of our inner Gordo, we’ll be smashing game-tying homeruns in the bottom of the 9th in Game 1 of the World Series. Or something along those lines.

As the social media posts about Alex Gordon have been rolling in since his announcement, my favorites haven’t been about his stats, his awards, or everything he accomplished in his career. My favorite ones are from his teammates – past and present. You see, Gordo wasn’t just an incredible baseball player. He was a great teammate and mentor, which is abundantly clear in what his teammates have to say about him.  He didn’t just pour his time and energy into his pre-game rituals or his off-season work, he poured his time and energy into others. When I was coaching, I always told my girls, there’s no relationship or friendship like that of a teammate. It holds a stronger bond than other types of relationships. You win together. You lose together. You endure sweat, blood and tears together. And through it all, you not only become better at the sport you love and hopefully win some games, you also help each other learn how to navigate life through the trials and tribulations that the sport has to offer. And when your team is lucky enough to have leaders and mentors like Alex Gordon, there is no price tag that can define how valuable that is. To show the young players the ropes. To hold them accountable. To lead by example. To let your work and your performance set the tone for others. To be their biggest cheerleader – even if it means they’re starting ahead of you. And so it goes in education as well. Are we, as leaders, good teammates? Are we the ones that are good for the clubhouse? Are we pouring ourselves into developing others? I think if we spent some time reflecting on this comparison of what it means to be a good teammate to what it means to be a good leader, we could set our organization up for success long after we leave it.

So, yes, while over the next several days and weeks you will undoubtedly see the highlight reels of Alex Gordon robbing homeruns, throwing out some poor, unsuspecting fool at home plate, and the unforgettable homerun in the bottom of the 9th, I encourage you to keep an eye out for the legacy he is leaving in Kansas City in the Royals organization for years to come. I encourage you, that if you want to celebrate Gordo, you do it by honoring the way he played the game by imitating it in your everyday life. Take these little life lessons from the greatest left fielder of all time (yes, I said it), and see if you, yourself, can be remembered for “playing the game the right way.” In true 2020 fashion, we won’t get to send Gordo off with a grand farewell at the K, but in his humble style, I really don’t think he will mind. Rather, he’ll be grateful for the opportunity he had to play the game he loved for so long. A typical, kind-hearted Nebraska-born-and-raised kid turned Forever Royal. Thank you, Gordo, for the memories, and thank you for continuing to represent all the reasons I named my son Gordon.

No Substitute for Hard Work

“Industriousness is the most conscientious, assiduous, and inspired type of work. A willingness to, an appetite for, hard work must be present for success. Without it you have nothing to build on.” – John Wooden, “Wooden”

I dare you to find a profession that is full of more industriousness than education. I’m not knocking other professions here, I know several people who are extremely hard workers and are not educators. I just happen to know a plethora of teachers. And they work so, so hard.  As the first cornerstone in John Wooden’s Pyramid for Success, I couldn’t ask for a more fitting topic to start my first of twelve promised blog posts in 2018.

“I call it industriousness to make very clear it involves more than merely showing up and going through the motions. Many people who tell you they worked all day weren’t really working very hard at all, certainly not to the fullest extent of their abilities.” – John Wooden, “Wooden”

I could pull quotes from Wooden all day long, but then it wouldn’t be much of a blog post, so much as excerpts from one of my all-time favorite books. My main point here is that teachers, administrators, counselors, and educators of all sorts are some of the hardest workers you will ever meet. Join me as I reflect over seven months of work that has gone into opening a brand new high school that attempts to move the needle a little bit at a time to redefine how education is done here in Kansas.

A New Endeavor

Opening a brand new high school is something that I will never forget. I will have to dedicate an entire blog post to this topic at some point in the future, but for now I will highlight the industriousness that I have seen day in and day out from my colleagues. I will break this up into some sub-categories for your reading pleasure. 🙂 Just know that when I show up to work every day, I am inspired by the hard work that goes on around me, and the hard work put in by the adults in our building will transcend past the current students in our building, and will help shape how education is done in the future.

Project Based Learning – A Transformation

When our school opened its doors to students this August, several teachers dedicated themselves to teaching in a new way, which was Project Based Learning. For those who may not be in the education world, or who may not be familiar with PBL, this is much different than simply “doing projects” in a typical class. The projects become the class. Instruction is done through the project, the teacher takes on more of a facilitator role, students engage in sustained inquiry, engage in their communities, and strive to answer driving questions that are linked to content area standards. It’s a complete over-haul of a traditional classroom, and something we’ve been encouraging our teachers to try – even if it’s only bits and pieces of it. The mere thought of transforming all you’ve ever known about teaching is overwhelming, and the hard work that goes into executing it is unparalleled. Take a look really quickly at some of the hard work that our teachers have completed in the realm of PBL so far this year:

"Give What You Have To Give"

In this English II Pre-AP project, students worked for the better part of a semester working in groups of how they could make our school a better place. The theme was “giving back” to somehow enhance what is already in progress at Olathe West. As a culminating activity, students gave (super impressive) presentations to outside guests – administrators, community members, parents, etc. I saw presentations on a school coffee shop, a giving tree, a leadership club, and even a proposal to add a slide from the 2nd floor to the 1st floor in our building. The amount of work that went into this project by both our teacher and her students was simply impressive.

"Chemistry Night"

One of our chemistry instructors hosted a community event one evening showcasing the projects that his students had put together over the past several months. The amount of sheer effort to organize such an event is outrageous. Not only are you giving up your own time on a weeknight, but several “unseen hours” that go into planning, promoting, preparing. The turnout from parents, community members, and experts in the field was outstanding.

"Law Enforcement Recruitment"

One of the flagship programs in our school is our Public Safety Academy. Our facilitator for this program has really jumped into PBL and his ongoing PBL unit for the first semester was for his students to create a recruiting tool and propose its use to different agencies. Over a course of two nights, Public Safety students presented their products to agencies such as the Olathe Police Department, the FBI, Secret Service, and more. Can you imagine? No, really. Can you imagine the time and effort that goes into pulling something like that off? Incredible.

"Owls in the Kitchen"

Now this one was really cool. Our culinary teacher hosted multiple evenings where students could cook for their loved ones. She invited their families into our school and their students cooked for them. If anything brings people together to slow down from life’s crazy pace to just sit and enjoy each other’s company, it’s a meal with loved ones. This was nothing required of this teacher, but something she wanted to do to foster the culture of her program. Amazing.

"Social Justice"

Students in an English 1 class spent several months researching an aspect of social injustice. They then had to think of possible solutions and what they can do to be a part of the solution. They wrote a research paper and presented their findings to district leadership, school leaders, parents, and community stakeholders. They included a digital component to their presentation, fielded questions, and dressed professionally. To say they rose to the occasion is an understatement. How did they do this, you may ask? Through a lot of hard work put in by their teacher, that’s how.

"Give a Hoot"

I know I said the last one was really cool, but this one was a whole school effort. We have a couple of staff members that prepare advisory lessons for our school each week. (Advisory is a time each week for students to get with their advisory teacher, go through activities to help map out their future, among other activities.) Our advisory teacher-leaders created a “Give a Hoot” campaign where each advisory chose their own community service project and completed it over a period of about 3 weeks or so. We had toy drives, clothing drives, adopt-a-families, trips to the elementary school, trash picker-uppers, window cleaners and more. All advisories participated in something. Hard work at its core.

I hope it’s starting to become clear that teachers teach things that go beyond the textbook, beyond the walls of our school. The combination of passion and hard work yields some of the most amazing things you’ll ever see.

Technology

I’ve blogged before on how technology can enhance what a teacher does in their classes. When it goes hand-in-hand with effective pedagogy, it can turn a “basic” lesson into something so “extra.” (Pardon my attempt to try to use the lingo of our students.)

Perhaps something that I haven’t touched base on is the amount of hard work that goes into properly and effectively implementing technology into the classroom. Our students at Olathe West each have a school-issued computer. That’s great, right? Yes, it’s great. It’s an amazing opportunity to transform the way learning is done. And with that, comes a tremendous amount of work on the part of teachers to learn the ways in which this is done effectively. A tremendous amount of work to learn new tips and tricks to classroom management. A tremendous amount of work to learn effective tools vs ineffective tools. A tremendous amount of work to re-create solid lesson plans into something more relevant to today’s students.  A tremendous amount of work to balance that technology with teaching soft skills/employability skills. You find me a teacher that effectively integrates technology, higher order thinking skills, solid pedagogy, and soft skills all in one, and I’ll show you a tremendously hard worker. My hat is off to you, teachers who I just described.

English Language Learners

I want to give a quick shout out to all the ELL teachers out there in the universe. You know who you are. You know your work is hard. You know the industriousness that goes into your every. single. day. You very well could have  6 lesson plans going on simultaneously in your classroom. You find a way to teach students who have just come to our country, students who have not had any formal education in 8 years, students who are on the cusp of leaving a sheltered classroom, students who are spreading their wings and flourishing in mainstream classes, and everything in between. You want a lesson in differentiation? Visit an ELL classroom for a day. I respect all that you do.

Special Education

How about another shout out to our special education compadres working incredibly hard to meet the individual needs of each and every one of their unique students? Whether a learning disability, emotional disturbance, behavior disorder, gifted, or more – your patience, compassion, and hard work does not go unnoticed. Your kids need you. They love you. And you love them back. It’s not easy. But you do it with a smile. YOU work hard.

General education teachers, I have not forgotten about you. You find a way to reach up to 30+ students of all sorts of abilities and language proficiencies in a given lesson plan. You modify curriculum, accommodate for our students in need, plan amazing lessons, put in extra hours to make sure all of your students can access your curriculum. Your hard work does not go unnoticed. Thank you.

Mental Health

Where to even begin? Our students need us now more than ever. Teachers today are not only teaching their content, but soft skills such as how to persevere when times are hard, personal responsibility, growth mindset, collaboration, creativity – the list goes on and on. Additionally, teachers are concerned about the mental health of their students. Our counseling and administrative teams work through our SIT process every week to identify students who need extra support and come up with action plans to help them as we can. More than once this school year I have received a call over a weekend where a teacher was concerned about a student’s well-being. Partnering with our counselors and school resource officer, we work to ensure the safety of our students.

If you know a school counselor, give them a hug. The heavy stuff they hear on a daily basis might shock you. While their hearts are breaking, they work with students to give them social and emotional skills to make it through what life has handed them. Thank you, counselors.

Additionally, our counselors work to provide for our students in need not only throughout the holiday seasons, but all year long utilizing resources and programs both inside and outside of our district. This kind of work to ensure our students are taken care of is not easy. It’s hard. Really hard.

Extra, Extra..

I could write forever on the value of extracurricular activities that teachers and schools provide for students. (In fact I may have blogged about it once.) However, I cant talk about the hard work that goes into education without at least mentioning the extra hours that coaches and activity sponsors and club sponsors put in on a daily basis. Between practices, meetings, games, performances, concerts, community service, and competitions, our teachers are doing more and more to prepare the whole child for life after high school. Students have so many opportunities to get involved in SOMETHING that they can relate to, and we know that the more a student is involved and connected to their school, the more likely they are to find academic success as well. This is all thanks to a lot of industriousness on behalf of our teachers. Not only do they put hours and hours of hard work into extracurriculars, they work to foster the best team, activity, performance possible.

Professional Learning Communities

In addition to creating inspiring lesson plans, caring for the wide array of students in each class, and fostering students’ mental health, teachers do more work behind the scenes than one can imagine. Our teachers meet weekly in their Professional Learning Communities. In these meetings, we model our work after the book Learning by Doing (DuFour, DuFour, Eaker, Many) in the sense that we are looking at content standards, breaking them into learning targets, using them to create common formative assessments, then using those assessments to determine our path – how to reach students who don’t understand, and how to extend those who do. That’s the nature of our work. It’s not a matter of going to last year’s lesson and hitting “copy/paste.” But rather, it’s looking at the standards, realizing what students know and don’t know, and let the art and science of teaching take us from there. I’m a firm believe that those who can, teach.

Professional Development

The world of education is changing, and it’s changing rapidly. To stay on the cutting edge of education is difficult. Just as you feel as though you are hitting your stride with the latest and greatest teaching strategies, there is a shift, a turn, an enhancement – something to keep you on your toes. The best teachers are the best learners. Teachers who have a growth mindset, are willing to take risks, learn new ways of doing things are often the most successful. Because that takes industriousness – hard work with a purpose – to do what’s best for kids. My promise to my teachers is to do my part to provide you with what I can with best teaching practices, new ways of doing things, encouraging you to take risks, try new things, and to be a reflective practitioner. I hope to do well by you.

#AdminLife

Let it be known that the glory of this post goes to the teachers that work day in and day out with ALL of our kids. They inspire me on a daily basis. I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the extremely hard work put in by the admin team that I work with day in and day out.  Each of us has a well defined role, and I’m very fortunate to be part of such an amazing team. The extra hours that these men put in is unparalleled. Each one willing to help each other out, even if it means more work for them. Each one of them has a unique skill set that they put to work every day. Imagine the hours that our athletic director and activities director have put in starting up brand new programs in literally every single sport and activity that a school has to offer. Then there is our principal and facilities AP who put in more hours than what seems like humanly possible to make sure our school is physically up and running, advocating day in and day out for our students and teachers. The two of them started this school from the ground up. Additionally, let’s not forget the hours put in by all of them, attending events, reaching out to community members, meeting with parents, and all the things that happen outside of the 8-3 school day. When I think of what John Wooden means by, “There is no substitute for work. Worthwhile things come only from work,” I think of my admin team.

My Personal Reflections

I’ve taken up enough of your time for the time being, so I’ll keep this portion short. As a working mom of three, I like to think that I work hard. It’s one of the things that I value most. But I know that I’m not working any harder than any of my counterparts out there, our hard work might just come in various forms. As for me, I’ll strive to work as hard as I can to lead those in our school as well as my family to be the best possible versions of themselves. I may not always accomplish this, but you better believe I’ll be working for it.

Thanks for reading,
Megan

Wooden It Be Nice?

Happy New Year! I hope those that are reading this had a restful and enjoyable break for the holidays, and are starting the new year refreshed, revived, and ready to take on whatever 2018 has to bring!

As I have been reading through blogs and tweets of educators that inspire me, I’ve been soaking in the words they chose for their “One Word” — that is, the word they’ve chosen to serve as a theme or goal for the upcoming year. I’ve never been one to set New Year’s Resolutions, but I do enjoy reading about how people hope to shape their year around a  principle they hold close to their hearts.

Now, knowing myself, if I chose a word, it would probably get lost in the shuffle after about a month or so. (I mean, have you seen how good I am at blogging after I claim that I’m going to start trying to do better?…) Sometimes life takes over, and some things, like resolutions and One Words get out of focus for me. However, I am going to try something this year. I’m going to have Twelve Words. (Say What?!?) Ok, hear me out.

I have a passion for a handful of things in life. One of which is teaching and learning, and another, leadership. Mix this with the fact that I think John Wooden is one of the best role models in coaching (read: life), and an idea was born.

John Wooden is famous for many things, one of which is his Pyramid of Success. In this Pyramid, Wooden uses building blocks of character traits that build up to what it takes to be successful in sports, leadership, and in life. Here’s what I plan to do throughout 2018: I’m going to focus on one of the building blocks per month, and blog about my observations here at school and/or in my own life. That is, I hope to blog about the amazing things are happening in our school that reflect the given word for the month, and how I am focusing on being intentional in that quality.

Through this, I hope to become more aware of the good around me. I say it all the time – our school is amazing filled with amazing people. But now I want to be purposeful about seeing it in action. I also hope to hone in my own skills in a Wooden type of way. I believe that by being intentional in each of the building blocks that I choose, I can continue to reflect, learn, and grow as an educator. I hope to never be complacent in my professional life – there is always something to be learned and improved upon.

As it turns out, there are actually 15 building blocks to Wooden’s pyramid, which doesn’t fit so nicely in a 12-month year, so I have chosen what I believe to be the most essential and prominent things that I see in education. Perhaps someday I’ll look to grow in the three that I didn’t choose. At any rate, here is a lineup of what I hope to blog about each month:

January – Industriousness (Really Hard Work)

February – Friendship

March – Loyalty

April – Cooperation

May – Enthusiasm

June – Initiative

July – Intentness

August – Condition (“The Choices You Make, Make You”)

September – Skill

October – Team Spirit

November – Poise

December – Competitive Greatness

(The ones I’m leaving out – for now – are: Self Control, Alertness, Confidence. Each of these is vital to success, perhaps a great way to start 2019? We shall see.)

I hope you’ll join me on this journey this year in 2018. I’m excited to combine a few things that I like to “nerd out” about – school, leadership, and of course John Wooden. Best wishes to you and yours in 2018!

-Megan